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The Wallendas

Markers: Sarasota History

Source: Sarasota County Public Records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive!
Location: 1623 Arlington Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - The Wallendas photo

The Wallenda circus troupe originated in Germany, where its members developed a daring highwire act. Early in their careers they achieved some fame touring with different circuses in Europe, but Karl Wallenda became convinced that circus operators in Europe failed to appreciate his artistry. Karl, Herman Wallenda, Helen Kreis, and Joe Geiger signed with the Santo Y Artigas Circus in Cuba in 1927. In 1928, John Ringling observed the Wallendas' performance in Cuba and signed them to a contract with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The Wallendas first engagement with the Ringling Circus occurred at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 5, 1928. The troupe, billed as "Europe's Latest Sensation," was honored as a solo act. The performance was a tremendous success and the Wallendas became celebrities.  

The Wallendas' fame, showmanship, and daring skill ensured them a prominent place in the Ringling Circus and they continued touring with the circus during the season, which ran approximately from April to October. During the winter the Wallendas frequently performed for other circuses. 

After the 1928 circus season, the Wallendas came to Sarasota, winter location of the Ringling Circus, and rented a home. In 1937, Karl and Helen, who had married, purchased a home at 1623 Arlington Street. The Wallendas property, which included several adjoining lots, became a practice area and provided a place for their colleagues to rest and socialize. 

The Wallendas toured with the Ringling Circus until 1946. In 1947, the family founded the traveling Wallenda Circus. Thereafter, they expanded their repertoire and from 1947-1962 their prime act was the seven-person pyramid. 

In the late 1970s, NBC television crews descended on the Walledas' home to film a movie about the Wallendas. The special, "The Great Wallendas," aired in February, 1978, and increased interest in the Wallendas and their act. 

In March, 1978, Karl Wallenda fell to his death in San Juan, Puerto Rico while walking the high wire. Shortly thereafter, Helen sold the property on Arlington Street and moved to northeast Sarasota. The Wallenda family symbolizes the ideal that "the show must go on," and their daring and showmanship made them one of the greatest acts in circus history.


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